Day 3: Crying my way into Santo Antão


This morning I was on the move again, this time from Mindelo, São Vicente’s capital. Here, in this city (where I’ll return in less than a week) I spent a short evening worrying all night about unpublished ferry schedules. See, here in Cape Verde, in an attempt to foil overzealous American travelers like me, webpages are the least reliable source of logistical information. Years-old websites, dodgy Facebook pages, and other false dawns make planning ferry trips, buses, and other transporation logistics an adventure in itself.

Sometimes, even locals don’t know the full story. For instance, the hourlong ferry to Santo Antão, Cape Verde’s trekking capital, usually has two departures a day but sometimes on Sunday has only one. But nobody really knows which Sunday usually has one, you just have to hope that you get there in the afternoon and there’s a boat waiting. A group of eager European tourists that shared a taxi with me from the airport last night thought they’d have a leisurely Sunday and take the afternoon ferry. I was almost convinced, but decided not to take my chances. I arrived to port at 7:30am and walked onto the first boat I saw. 30 minutes later, I was on my way to a different world (and several hours later one of the friendly Europeans wrote me telling me there were no more boats, and that they were coming tomorrow).

Scenery aside, the channel felt about as exotic as a layover in Frankfurt Airport. Young, middle aged, and old Europeans crowded the top deck, while Cape Verdeans (oddly prone to seasickness) took refuge inside the covered deck. A video screen next to a glum woman slinging 50 cent espressos played Cesaria Evora’s music videos on repeat.

Only when we arrived did I realize where I was: shortly before the boat docked, I heard wailing from the covered seating area. Thinking someone was seasick, or someone just had a rough night, I kept my distance. Quickly, the wailing spread across the deck, with different sounds of sorrow competing for attention as passengers started to disembark. Over the bow, as they unloaded the cargo in the hull, I spied a black car drive slowly out of the boat holding a closed casket. The wailers directed their attention to the hearse, and began a rhythmic chant in honor of their departed, making his or her way home to Santo Antão (many residents of São Vicente, a more prosperous island, originally came from Santo Antão).

At port, I was swept up into a shared taxi that miraculously took a scenic route to our destination for no additional cost. Climbing high into the hills on meticulously cobbled roads, I knew this was going to be a special place.